Two Opposing Paths to Salvation Illustrated – Romans 10:4-8
Pastor Mark Hardy June 2, 2013
In April 1988 the evening news reported on a photographer who was a skydiver. He had jumped from a plane along with numerous other skydivers and was filming the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. On the film clip shown during the telecast, right after the final skydiver opened his chute, the picture went berserk. The announcer then sadly reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death.
What had happened was that the photographer got so caught up in the excitement of the moment that he had jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn’t until after he had filmed the last skydiver open his chute and he reached for the ripcord that he realized it wasn’t there and that he had been free falling without a parachute. Until that point, the jump must have seemed exciting and fun. But tragically, he had acted with thoughtless haste and deadly foolishness. Absolutely nothing could save him, for his faith was in a parachute that he never buckled on.
In a similar way, the Bible makes it very clear that faith in anything other than Jesus Christ, God Himself in human flesh who died on the cross as our Substitute to pay in full the penalty for sin that we deserved, will lead to an even more tragic end for one eternally. God’s only way of salvation is through saving faith in Jesus Christ. This is Gospel, which is what we will be looking at this morning as we continue on in our study of Romans 10. Turn there with me in your Bible.
In Romans 10:4-8 we see three truths about everyone’s responsibility for receiving the Gospel.
The first truth is this:
I. Only Belief in Christ alone can Save
A. Look at v. 4: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
1. Having just stated in v. 3, which we saw last time, that the Jews refused to submit themselves to God’s righteousness because they were culpably ignorant of God’s righteousness and attempted to establish their own righteousness, Paul now uses the word “For” to explain the central reason why they were wrong to do this. Because they failed to recognize that only belief in Christ alone can save.
2. Paul declares, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Let’s see what this most crucial statement actually means.
3. The phrase “Christ is the end of the law” has been greatly debated and it centers on how the word “end” (telos) is translated. Although this word has numerous meanings in various contexts, it can be boiled down to three primary views:
4. First, it can be translated “goal, aim, or object.” It is true that Christ is the goal of the Law, in that, the Law was designed primarily to lead people to Him.
5. Second, it can be translated “fulfillment, completion, or climax.” It is also true that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, in that, as the God-Man: 100% God, 100% man, He alone has been the only Person who has kept it perfectly throughout His sinless life (Jn. 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21).
6. Third, it can be translated as stated here in the NASB “end, termination, or cessation.” Although it is true that Christ is the goal and fulfillment of the Law, it is best translated “end” in this verse in light of the context.
7. But whereas Jesus did do away with the ceremonial aspects of the Law (Col. 2:16), this does not mean that He abolished the Law completely, as some “antinomians” (or “No Law” people) like to say. The Mosaic Law, like all inspired, God-breathed Scripture, is profitable for believers as a rule of life (2 Tim. 3:16).
8. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
9. Therefore, to understand what Paul means here we must see all of what he says. Notice again that Paul doesn’t say “Christ is the end of the law,” but that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.”
10. Remember that the word “righteousness” (dikaiosunen) means to have a right standing before God. It speaks of God’s saving righteousness or justification, whereby we are declared righteous before God. This is what it means to be saved.
11. Therefore, what Paul is saying here is not that the Law was ever truly the means of obtaining righteousness before God, but that Christ is the end or termination of all false attempts at attaining a right standing before God through the Law.
B. But notice at the end of v. 4 that this is true only “to everyone who believes,” for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
1. Paul doesn’t mean that Christ completed stopped a wrong understanding of a right standing before God or salvation for everyone in the world, because this is simply not the case. As I said last time, there are millions of people in false religions and cults around the world are still trying to establish their own righteousness.
2. But for those who believe in Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross and have personally receive a right standing before God, they are done with attempting to establish our own righteousness by their self-effort and good deeds.
3. Leon Morris said it well, “Once we grasp the decisive nature of Christ’s saving work we see the irrelevance of all legalism.” (pg. 380)
4. Here again God makes it clear that saving righteousness is by faith alone in Christ alone. Back in Romans 3:21-22 Paul said, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…”
5. This is the glorious truth of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read that “He (i.e. God the Father) made Him (i.e. God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
6. This is why it is so sad that even though the Jews were entrusted with the Old Testament Scriptures, because of their preoccupation with trying to establish their own righteousness through the Law, they missed God’s righteousness found only through faith in Christ.
7. Only belief in Christ alone can save. And everyone is responsible to receive the Gospel.
8. Now since righteousness by faith is not some new idea unique to him, Paul then goes on to illustrate from the Old Testament Scriptures the two opposing paths to salvation—the two different kinds of righteousness, which he has been contrasting in 9:30-31, 10:3, and again here.
9. We see the first path to salvation in the second truth about everyone’s responsibility for receiving the Gospel, which is this:
II. The Path of Works must be Rejected
A. To illustrate the wrong path of works to obtain righteousness, Paul quotes a portion of Leviticus 18:5. Look at v. 5: For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.
1. When comparing this verse to the Greek, personally I prefer the translation of the NKJV which says: For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”
2. Now when considering the difficulty in understanding Leviticus 18:5, John Murray says “…in the original setting it does not appear to have any reference to legal righteousness as opposed to that of grace. Suffice it to say now that the formal statement Paul appropriates is one suited to express the principle of law-righteousness. It cannot be doubted but the proposition, ‘The man that doeth the righteousness of the law shall live thereby,’ is, of itself, an adequate and watertight definition of the principle of legalism.” (pg. 51)
3. Douglas Moo says this about the verse, “In its context, Lev. 18:5 summons Israel to obedience to the commandments of the Lord as a means of prolonging her enjoyment of the blessings of God in the promised land. The verse is not speaking about the attainment of eternal life; and Paul clearly does not believe that the OT teaches that righteousness is based on the law (see Rom. 4). Paul is not, therefore, claiming that Christ has replaced the old way of salvation—by obedience to the law—with a new one—by faith in Christ. But Paul does think that the law embodies, in its very nature, the principle that perfect obedience to it would confer eternal life (see 2:13 and 7:10). It may be this principle that Paul intends to enunciate here via the words of Lev. 18:5.” (pg. 647-648)
B. God never intended the Mosaic Law be a means of salvation.
1. But just as the majority of the Jews in Paul’s day misunderstood their Messiah, they also misunderstood the Mosaic Law. And out of self-righteous pride, they, like millions of other people today, insisted on establishing their own works-righteousness by trying to keep the Law.
2. And yet, in principle if this were even possible a person would have to obey the Law perfectly throughout his entire life, not sinning one time. But this is an utter impossibility!
3. God knew that! His merciful and gracious provision is even seen in the Jews sacrificial system that regularly addressed their sins and failures to keep the Law. Thus, showing that the Law was never intended to be a legalistic guarantee of eternal life.
4. As we have seen before, the problem is not with the Law, which is holy and righteous and good and spiritual (7:7, 12, 14), the problem is with our own sinfulness (8:3). Sinful, imperfect people cannot keep a perfect Law, which flows out of the holy character of God.
5. Therefore, the Bible says that even our best “righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). And James 2:10 declares that, “…whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
6. Remember that the primary function of the Law was a death notice not a life notice. The Law produces a curse on anyone who does not perfectly keep all of its requirements (Gal. 3:10-11).
7. Remember what Paul said in 3:20, “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (5:20; 7:5)
8. The Law was never intended by God to be a means of salvation but to drive us to despair in ourselves and lead us with the empty hands of faith to Jesus Christ to Jesus Christ, who alone can save us from our sins. For Galatians 3:24 says, “…the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
9. Therefore, everyone is responsible to reject the path of works. Paul then states the second path to salvation in the third truth about everyone’s responsibility for receiving the Gospel, which is this:
III. The Path of Faith must be Followed
A. In vv. 6-8 Paul illustrates the right path to obtain righteousness by excerpting little portions of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to prove his point. Look at vv. 6-7: But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”
1. Paul uses the word “But” to show the stark contrast between “the righteousness based on law” that he illustrated in v. 5 and “the righteousness based on faith” that he brings out in vv. 6-8.
2. Remember that there are really only two religions in the world: one is works-righteousness—what we can do by our own self-efforts to earn God’s favor; and the other is grace-righteousness—what Jesus Christ has already done for us in His death and resurrection and our simple faith in Him.
3. Since Paul is simply taking excerpts from this Deuteronomy passage, listen to what Moses actually said in Deuteronomy 30:10-13, “If you obey the LORD your God and keep His commandments and His statues which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’”
4. The point of Moses’ exhortation is to prevent the Israelites from evading their responsibility to do what God commanded by pleading that it was too difficult for them or out of their reach. They did not need to search everywhere to try to find God’s commandment because God already provided it for them, and so all they needed to do was to respond by faith and walk with Him in obedience.
5. In effect, Paul saw in this passage that the same truth applied to the Jews of his day, not in regards the commandment but to Jesus Christ. Therefore, he excerpts little portions from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 and weaves them into his argument.
6. Remember that the uses of the Old Testament by the New Testament apostolic writers do not always have to be explicit interpretations of that particular verse or passage in its original context. Sometimes they are, but other times they are simply using Old Testament passages under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to produce God-breathed Scripture to suit their purposes.
7. For 1 Peter 1:20-21 says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (1 Tim. 3:16)
8. Now notice how Paul personifies “the righteousness based on faith” and it is that which is speaking here. And it first says: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART.”
9. Moses used this same phrase in both Deuteronomy 8:17 and 9:4 to warn Israel that when they take possession of the land of Canaan that God is bringing them into, they were not think that they had done anything to earn it. In 8:17 he says, “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.”
10. And in 9:4 he states, “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land…’”
11. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “The context from which these words are drawn is significant, for there Israel is warned against presuming that their inheritance of the land is due to their own righteousness. These are fitting words in the Romans context, for they underscore that righteousness by faith precludes all boasting in one’s own righteousness.” (pg. 558)
B. Paul then partially quotes the two questions in Deuteronomy 30:12-13 to expose the unbelief and self-righteous attitude of the majority of the Jews in his day.
1. Both these questions had become proverbial for what is impossible. In other words, they are admonitions that warn people what they should not do because they are impossible.
2. The first question is his partial quote of v. 12 in Romans 10:6: WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN? Paul then provides the application: (that is, to bring Christ down).
3. Just as it was impossible for Israel to ascend into heaven to find God’s commandment because they already had it, so it is impossible to ascend to heaven and bring Christ down to earth because He has already come in His Incarnation.
4. The second question is his partial quote of v. 13 in Romans 10:7: or “WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?” Then Paul provides the application: (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”
5. Here Paul substituted the word “abyss” for the word “sea” in the Deuteronomy passage, thus changing the figure from one of distance to one of depth, because it makes the contrast with heaven much sharper.
6. The words “sea” and “abyss” are somewhat interchangeable concepts in the Old Testament. The word “abyss” (abusson) is a synonym for Hades or Sheol, which means the place of the dead or grave (Matt. 11:23; Lk. 10:15).
7. Therefore, just as it is impossible to scale the heights into heaven to bring Christ down now that the Incarnation has already taken place, so it is impossible to plumb the depths of Sheol to bring Christ up from the dead since He has already been raised.
8. Paul’s point is this: The “righteousness based on faith” does not require any superhuman accomplishments. Just as it was not our self-effort that brought Christ into the world or raised Him from the dead, so it is not our self-effort that earns a right standing before God.
9. We had absolutely nothing to do with Christ’s incarnation or His resurrection. God did it all for us!
10. Therefore, our responsibility is simply to receive God’s gracious gift of righteousness in Christ by faith. God’s only way of salvation has ever and always been by faith (Rom. 4:1-8; Gal. 3:6-9).
11. This is the path of faith that everyone is responsible to follow. And yet, the majority of the Jews in Paul’s day rejected this grace-righteousness of God through faith alone in Christ alone and insisted on trying to establish their own works-righteousness.
12. And people everywhere do the same today! But there is no other way to heaven!
C. This “righteousness based on faith” then speaks again in v. 8 through a partial quote of Deuteronomy 30:14: But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.
1. For Paul the “word” (rema) here is not the commandment that Moses gave Israel, but it refers to the spoken word. And he calls this spoken word the “word of faith,” which means the message that requires a response of faith.
2. This message is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice that this word of faith “is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”
3. The term “near” speaks of being available and accessible. Just as God brought His the word of His commandment near to Israel so they might know and obey Him, so He now brings his spoken word of faith, the gospel, near to both Jews and Gentiles that they might know Him through his Son Jesus Christ and respond in faith and obedience.
4. Now how was the word “NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart” in Paul’s day? He says at the end of v. 8, “that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.”
5. This probably is a reference to when Paul entered a city to preach, his pattern was to first go to the Jewish synagogue. When he left they remained behind to discuss what Paul had taught, and the gospel of Christ that he, and the other apostles, preached was in their mouths and in their hearts as they talked and thought about it, whether they believed it or not.
6. Therefore, the truth of God’s “righteousness based on faith” was as near to them, even though they didn’t receive it. And it is near to us today as well!
In closing, there are only two possible paths to obtain salvation—either by works or by faith, by doing or by believing. But God has made it crystal clear in His Word that His only way of salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not is not difficult or complicated, and it is available and accessible to everyone who believes, Jew and Gentile alike. Therefore, everyone is responsible for receiving the Gospel.
Let me ask you: Do you have your eternal parachute on today? Have you by faith received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? If not, then you are in reality free falling through life, but without Jesus in your life you are going to one day experience the most tragic end of eternal punishment.
Since saving faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, please don’t neglect your eternal soul. If you’ve never received Him, I encourage you to do today what you will one day be glad you did when you stand before the Almighty Judge of the universe.